Go Alternative in Portland

1. Where to Stay

The lounge area on the rooftop of the Nines. Photo: Courtesy of the Nines

Feel good about staying at a chain at the Courtyard by Marriott (from $109), the city’s first Gold LEED-certified property. The hotel practices sustainability with on-site renewable energy and recycled carpets without skimping on design: all 256 rooms feature large-scale photographs shot by local artists and big windows that maximize sunlight and downtown views.

Sleep in style at the Nines (from $184), housed in the top nine floors of the former Meier & Frank department store and decorated with prints by students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, as well as Tiffany blue armchairs, damask wallpaper, and white satin drapes. Have drinks on the rooftop patio of Departure Restaurant & Lounge, where you can gaze at majestic Mount Hood while sipping pinot noir ($10).

Shack up at the Pocket House (from $125), a 435-square-foot cabin that sleeps five in the formerly grungy, now trendy neighborhood of Mississippi. The space blends a minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic with ecofriendly features like a dual-flush toilet and energy-efficient appliances. Take advantage of the organic herb and vegetable gardens when preparing outdoor meals on the small patio.

2. Where to Eat

Olympic Provisions' specialty is homemade cured meats. Photo: Courtesy of Olympic Provisions

Have a meatless four-course dinner ($35) at just-opened Natural Selection, an upscale vegetarian restaurant that also offers vegan and gluten-free options. Chef-owner Aaron Woo prepares seasonal specialties like nettle-and-chestnut croquettes and carrot-and-farro risotto in an open kitchen. Meals are leisurely here, so order a cocktail or two from the handmade bar cart; the Diablo ($8) with tequila, cassis, lime, and ginger beer is a favorite.

Dig into the Chef’s Choice charcuterie plate ($12) at eastside restaurant/deli Olympic Provisions, Oregon’s first USDA-certified meat-curing facility. Swiss-trained salumist Elias Cairo’s dry-cured sausages span the flavors of Europe and pair nicely with a bottle of red from the impressive wine wall in the rear of the industrial space.

Choose your beef according to the ranch it came from at Laurelhurst Market, a steakhouse/butcher shop where cuts (from hanger and rib eye to bavette and culotte; $20 to $37) are listed with their corresponding organic purveyors. Hourlong waits are normal unless you arrive at 5 p.m., so plan on predinner drinks created by cocktail artisan Evan Zimmerman at the bar.

Have lunch at Evoe to sit at the butcher-block table where chef Kevin Gibson assembles his dishes. Voted one of 2010’s best restaurants by Portland Monthly Magazine, this eighteen-seat “enlightened snack bar” serves a changing menu of ingredient-driven dishes, though sandwiches ($7 to $10) are fairly constant. Standouts include the speck: smoked prosciutto on housemade focaccia with asiago, arugula, and mustard.

3. What to Do

Tender Loving Empire stocks a variety of handmade goods (left); the Woods hosts concert and theme nights (right).Photo: Courtesy of Tender Loving Empire and The Woods

Cycle the city’s extensive network of bike lanes to the best of Portland’s more than 30 coffee roasters on Pedal Bike Tours’ three-hour, early morning ride ($49). Stops include the crooked Victorian building that houses Oblique Coffee Roasters, where proprietor John Chandler mans a vintage cast-iron roaster, and Stumptown Annex, where you’ll evaluate the flavor tones of different brews during one of two daily cuppings (noon and 2 p.m.).

Head to the Pearl District’s iconic Powell’s City of Books to peruse first editions and tomes from past centuries in the Rare Book Room, and then learn how to publish your own work at nearby Reading Frenzy, an indie publishing house offering two-hour workshops ($5 to $45) on everything from e-books to zines. Around the corner is Tender Loving Empire, a retail consignment shop/record label/gallery that embodies DIY spirit with screen-printed T-shirts, handmade jewelry, and CDs from local acts like indie orchestra Typhoon.

Visit the most innovative of the city’s three dozen microbreweries to reach “Beervana,” as local brewhounds like to call Portland. The new Cascade Brewing Barrel House stands out for its sour beers; try the Kriek ($2), a red ale made with Oregon-grown Bing cherries. Or quaff ecofriendly beer at Hopworks Urban Brewery, a carbon-neutral brewpub pouring ten different beers made from organic malts and locally sourced hops. Order the sample tray ($8.50) to taste them all.

Pay your respects to alt-folk acts like Lancaster’s Denison Witmer (May 22; $10) at the Woods, a two-year-old music venue ensconced in a converted funeral parlor dating back to 1929. The candle-lit chapel serves as performance space, while several smaller rooms strewn with brocaded armchairs are made for lounging. Also check out their free Bingo and Bourbon party on Mondays, and monthly karaoke and soul nights.

4. Insider’s Tip

Holiday Hair Studio serves clients one at a time inside a pink trailer. Photo: Courtesy of Holiday Hair Studio

The newest and unlikeliest way to take care of your fashion and beauty needs in Portland is inside repurposed trailers and buses. Owned by a musician with a penchant for vintage dresses from the sixties, Lodekka stocks her finds from small-town Oregon thrift stores in a British double-decker bus. Head to Wanderlust to find a 1969 Cardinal Deluxe camper full of seventies-style secretary tops and moccasins. For your salon needs, get personal attention at Holiday Hair Studio, a pink vintage travel trailer that’s big enough for just one chair and a tiny sink.

5. Oddball Day

The putting green at McMenamins Edgefield (left); the dramatic Multnomah Falls (right). Photo: Courtesy of McMenamins Edgefield and Flickr/coralmoore

Spend a day taking in natural beauty outside the city, but first fortify yourself at Tasty n Sons, where the hefty brunch plates could easily pass for dinner fare. Pick up any outdoor gear you might need at the Woodlands, which carries unisex wares made in the Pacific Northwest, then drive 30 minutes away to hit the trails of the Columbia River Gorge. Start your ascent at Multnomah Falls, the tallest of seven waterfalls in the area, and hike past Benson Bridge up a mile-long trail marked with eleven steep switchbacks that rise quickly but offer beautiful views of the gorge and Washington State. If you still feel energetic at the top, follow signs to the five-mile Wahkeena Falls Loop and spend three hours exploring a forest teeming with Douglas Fir trees, mossy cliffs, and streams. (Some of the signage can be confusing, so pick up a map at the Multnomah Falls Lodge first.) Once you’re back on solid ground, follow fellow outdoorsmen to nearby McMenamins Edgefield, a farm turned resort with a pitch-and-putt course and distillery, where you can work on your short game while sipping on a pear brandy ($7.75) made with Hood River pears. Return to Portland for dinner at the new D-Street Noshery, a heated food cart pod where Korean taco truck KOi Fusion, beer bus Captured by Porches, and seven other vendors gather. If you’re hungry for more, perennially crowded Thai street food eatery PokPok is just across the street.

6. Links

Visit Hidden Portland for a guide to the city’s most offbeat museums and collections.

Eater PDX covers every restaurant opening, and Brewpublic reports on every beer released in the Pacific Northwest.

The volunteers of the Dill Pickle Club organize nontraditional educational tours so that history nerds can learn about stuff like the region’s logging heritage.

For music, film, art, and restaurant listings, check out the online versions of the Portland Mercury and Portland Monthly.

Go Alternative in Portland